The Washington Post seems to be a hacker favorite. The newspaper’s servers were breached again, the paper reported on Wednesday.
The Post said hackers gained access to employee user names and passwords in what it marked as at least the third intrusion over the past three years. The paper said the extent of the loss is not clear, but employees have been instructed to change their user names and passwords -- even though they are stored in encrypted form -- based on the assumption that they may have been compromised.
“This is an ongoing investigation, but we believe it was a few days at most,” said spokeswoman Kris Coratti in the Post article. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant notified the paper of the breach and reported it was a “relatively short duration.”
Assessing the Damage
We turned to James Lyne, global head of security research at Sophos, for his thoughts on the latest incident at The Washington Post. He told us it is interesting to see continued examples of compromises focused on media organizations for presumably political or media subversion purposes.
“This is certainly not the first case of this in 2013 and we are likely to see more of them over the course of next year,” he said. “It is reassuring in this instance that the credentials stolen were in encrypted form -- though details on what standard of protection are lacking -- thus avoiding the loss of plaintext credentials as many did this year.”
As Lyne sees it, company-wide password reset is a sensible precaution, but he said one of the greatest challenges when dealing with an incident where attackers had access to your systems for even a short period is identifying what else they may have done.
“Did they only steal credentials or did they subvert other systems, plant backdoors or change content? As forensics on the incident conclude hopefully such other possibilities can be eliminated,” he said.
“This example should remind us all how cybercriminals and attacks have swung from being nearly entirely financially focused to political, principled or driven by corporate espionage. It is critical we all take steps to monitor and protect against such attacks and prepare solid incident response processes such that when (not if) it goes wrong damage can be limited,” he added.
In August, The Washington Post was attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At that time, the Post reported that the SEA briefly infiltrated its website and redirected readers of some stories to its own site. The attack lasted about 30 minutes and targeted foreign news stories specifically.
But the Chinese are suspect in this latest attack. The paper reports: “The company’s suspicions immediately focused on the possibility that Chinese hackers were responsible for the hack. Evidence strongly pointed to Chinese hackers in a 2011 intrusion of The Post’s network and in hacks against The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a wide range of Washington-based institutions, from think tanks to human rights groups and defense contractors.”